By Kayla Cross, Journalist, Georgetown University
In the wake of complaints about strict restrictions on eligibility for Washington DC’s medical marijuana program, Mayor Vincent Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies.
According to Gray’s official order, released Oct. 28, the advisory committee will work with the D.C. Department of Health to monitor practices in other states, as well as scientific research regarding the use of medical marijuana.
District residents have been able to purchase medical marijuana for qualifying conditions since July 29, which is the product of over two decades of lobbying and debate.
An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states.
The Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee consists of Department of Health Director Joxel Garcia, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas Majett, Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and City Administrator Allen Lew. Members of the Scientific Subcommittee will be appointed by the DOH director.
Currently, the medical marijuana program only covers conditions such as HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, muscle spasms and cancer, making it one of the most restrictive in the country. Though D.C. has an HIV/AIDS infection rate of 2.4 percent, or approximately 15,000 of its residents, only 89 people are enrolled in the medical marijuana program, as of Nov. 18.
Additionally, only 62 out of the District’s 1,400 doctors have picked up the medical marijuana prescription forms, and 39 have actually used them as of Oct. 21.
During the Oct. 18 D.C. Council hearing, advocates for expansion of the program pushed for the loosening of restrictions on eligible conditions and further education of doctors about prescribing marijuana for medical purposes.
Organic medical marijuana distributors such as Capital City Care, the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary, are eager to see an expanded list of conditions added to the program to increase eligibility for those not currently covered. Capital City Care owner David Guard said his business would need more patients to stay open during the Oct. 18 hearing.
“This is an important milestone, and we’re excited to see things moving forward. We look forward to working with the committee to address concerns about the sustainability of the medical marijuana program,” Capital City Care Communications Director Scott Morgan wrote in an email. “We’ve heard from many patients who are eager to see more medical conditions added to the program, so I’m sure the committee’s work will be followed closely in the patient community.”
Gray spokesperson, Doxie McCoy, was optimistic about the advisory committee’s potential.
“Mayor Gray is confident the advisory committee, and any city agencies involved with medical marijuana policies and practices will collaborate to ensure an effective program,” McCoy wrote in an email.